Definition of Insolence in the Workplace

Insolence in the workplace typically results in discipline.
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If you've been in the workforce for a number of years, you've probably heard a coworker make a comment toward a supervisor that makes it clear that the employee's days at the company are numbered. Virtually all employers have a zero-tolerance policy for insolence and insubordination in the workplace. If you speak out against your boss in a disrespectful manner, you'll almost certainly face some form of disciplinary action -- including possible dismissal.


Insolence in the workplace involves an employee acting or talking disrespectfully to a superior. In the work setting, insolence typically refers to the dynamic between an employee and a supervisor, rather than between coworkers. Actions commonly associated with insolence include talking back, aggressively arguing, talking in a disrespectful manner and such body language as eye rolling and looking away. The Merriam-Webster dictionary lists audacious, cheeky and imprudent as synonyms of insolence.

Other examples could be use of profanities, abusive language toward employees, sexual harassment and refusal to obey reasonable order from a superior. Employee behavior like this that undermines an employer's authority can damage the work environment and hurt working relationships.


Employers and human resources departments should respond swiftly to insolence in the workplace to show other employees that management doesn't tolerate insubordinate employee behavior, suggests the U.S. Department of Agriculture's ethics office. The website HR Hero outlines four typical stages of discipline for workplace issues. These include a verbal warning, a written warning, suspension from work and dismissal. The first two stages are ideal for minor violations, while the latter two are appropriate during severe instances of insolence. Single incidents can be dismissed if an apology is administered, but gross insubordination that is repeated often violates company policy and should be dealt with.


The website HRVoice reports that because employers don't have to put up with an insolent employee, they can terminate the employee immediately with just cause. The website recommends that when handling insolent employees, human resources professionals must consider the situation before determining the appropriate discipline. They may also want to look at the employee handbook or consult the employment contract that individual signed.

An employer might not choose to dismiss an employee over a lone act of insolence, but HRVoice says that the employer should quickly determine whether the insolence has irreparably damaged the relationship between the employer and employee. Varying degrees of insolence exist. For example, blatant insolence in front of a customer is worse than a flippant remark behind closed doors. If the insolent behavior borders on harassment, the employer will provide harsh discipline, as workplace harassment is illegal.

Legal Issues

The law firm Carters Professional Corporation lists workplace insolence as an example of just cause for termination without notice. Although some people might see insolence as a minor offense, the law firm lists such serious issues as fraud, harassment and intoxication as other just causes for dismissal. An employee might seek a law firm to file a wrongful dismissal lawsuit upon being terminated for insolence. To protect itself, Carters Professional Corporation warns that an employer should only dismiss the insolent employee when it can clearly prove the misconduct and show that the relationship between the two parties is irreparably damaged. If an employer is unsure if the insubordinate behavior exhibited is grounds for dismissal, seeking legal advice is a good idea.

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